Tobacco Effects on Dental Health

By Premier Dental of Ohio

Quitting Tobacco Improves the Health of your Mouth

Many people know that using tobacco is bad for your health.  Smoking causes lung problems like cancer and emphysema.  What many people do not realize is that using any form of tobacco (yes, including vaping!) is bad for the health of your mouth.

This blog will outline the many negative effects tobacco has on the health of the mouth.  The opposite is also true: when you quit using tobacco, you reduce these negative effects and improve the health of your mouth.

Tobacco Increases Risk for Cavities

Using tobacco has several different effects on the mouth that lead to a higher risk for cavities.  Some of these effects are specific to certain types of tobacco, and the take-away is that using any type of tobacco makes you more likely to form cavities on your teeth.

Dry Mouth

Smoking has a drying effect on the inside of the mouth.  A dry mouth carries a significantly high risk for cavities because it lacks the saliva necessary for fighting the bacteria causing cavities.  In the absence of saliva, bacteria are able to reproduce more easily, adhere to the surface of teeth more firmly, and damage enamel more quickly.  Having a dry mouth simply gives the bad, cavity-causing bacteria a huge advantage.

Acidic Saliva

The way that bacteria cause cavities is by eating sugar (from your diet) and producing acid.  The acid they produce softens and weakens the enamel surface until the bacteria are able to penetrate through the enamel to the softer tooth structure within and spread rapidly.  Anything acidic (like fizzy drinks) is bad for the enamel, and it creates an environment that works in bacteria’s favor.  A recent study shows that both smoking and using chewing tobacco lower the pH in saliva, making the mouth more acidic.

Stickier Plaque

The dry mouth discussed above leads to a stickier, harder-to-remove plaque, so this is one of the results from smoking.  This is also one of the effects of vaping or e-cig usage.  The ingredients in the aerosol of e-cigs increase bacterial attachment to the teeth.  People who vape have significantly sticker dental plaque, which allows bacteria to stay in more consistent contact with the tooth surface.  This, in turn, allows the bacteria to do more damage, leading to a higher risk for cavities.

Sugar in Smokeless Tobacco and Vape Flavorings

Both smokeless tobacco and e-cig flavorings have sugar.  This sugar fuels the bacteria, which are already stronger because of the lack of saliva, acidic environment and sticky plaque.  The method of using tobacco also worsens this risk factor.  When you eat sugar, you typically chew the food and swallow it relatively quickly.  With vaping or using smokeless tobacco, you hold the sugar in your mouth for a prolonged period of time, giving the bacteria more time to work.

Tobacco Increases Risk for Gum Disease

Gum disease is also a bacterial disease, and the bacteria present in plaque produce toxins, which attack the supporting structures of the teeth.  The dry mouth and stickier plaque noted above not only cause cavities; they also increase the risk for gum disease.  They aren’t the only concerns, though.

The nicotine in tobacco causes a shrinking or tightening of the tiny blood vessels present in gum tissue, which reduces the blood flow.  In the event of gum infection (which is what gum disease involves), your body’s ability to fight the infection depends on getting blood to the site.  In nicotine users, the lack of blood flow lowers your body’s ability to fight the infection, allowing the gum disease to progress faster.

Patients who already have gum disease and use tobacco products will have a lower success rate in treating and curing gum disease.  The nicotine also has a masking effect, meaning it makes the gum disease less obvious.  Less blood flow means there is less inflammation.  The bacteria can be destroying the supporting structures around teeth without making the gums sore, red, puffy and bleeding.  Tobacco users often have no idea that they have any problems with their gums.

Tobacco Increases Risk for Failure of Dental Implants

The lack of blood flow caused by nicotine is also the cause of a higher risk for implant failure in tobacco users.  Replacing missing teeth with dental implants is typically a very successful treatment . . . unless you use tobacco.  Then your success rate is much lower.  Nicotine impairs the body’s ability to bring important cells to a surgical site, which means the jawbone has more difficulty in growing into and connecting with the dental implant root form.

If the implant does heal initially, it has a higher risk of failure over its lifespan due to the increased risk for gum disease.  Dental implants cannot get cavities, but they suffer bone loss and failure of the implant when gum disease attacks them.  Because nicotine worsens gum disease, tobacco users have a higher rate of long-term failure of a dental implant, in addition to their lower chance of initial integration.

Tobacco Impairs Healing from Oral Surgery

Other surgical procedures, like tooth extractions, gum surgeries, and biopsies, are also affected by nicotine.  Smokers and other tobacco users have significantly delayed healing from surgery over patients who do not use tobacco.  This is also a result of the reduced blood flow in the gum tissues.  They also have a higher risk for post-operative infections and complications like dry socket.

If you have an oral surgery procedure planned in the near future, stop using tobacco as soon as possible.  You will heal more quickly and experience less post-operative pain and other complications.

Tobacco Increases Risk for Oral Cancer

There is no doubt about the fact that tobacco use increases one’s risk for oral cancer.  Smokers and smokeless tobacco users are much more likely to have pre-cancerous changes in the surface tissues of the mouth.  Various ingredients in chewing tobacco and dipping snuff cause chronic traumatic irritation to the soft tissues lining the inside of the mouth.  This irritation has a compounded effect over time, so the longer you use tobacco, the higher your risk for oral cancer is.

The only way to lower the risk is to stop using tobacco as soon as possible!

Have We Convinced You to Quit? 

Do you have more questions about tobacco and how it affects your mouth?  Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with our knowledgeable dentists.  We can give you information and assistance with tobacco cessation and put you back on the road to a completely healthy mouth!

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